Dwight Oakley Morley
 and the Nudist Pen-Name
“Dan Oakley”

© by Alan Downes, Ph.D.

The author assembled several examples of visual proof that, unfortunately, have not come through in this format.  But each description is so thorough, that the argument is easily followed.

To be a nudist in my era was risky and required either great courage or great caution.  I learned caution at the age of eight when I announced to my neighborhood playmates that my family was going to visit a nudist camp.  I was ordered off the premises and told not to come back.

The man who called himself “Dan Oakley” chose caution.  Writing under that pen name he produced the “Naked Notes” column for eight years—four in The Nudist starting in 1936 and four in the successor magazine Sunshine & Health until 1944. He continued with occasional articles in Sunshine & Health under his pseudonym until 1958, and he died in 1968.

Very few people knew the name behind the pseudonym.  His wife certainly, his daughter probably, and his grandchildren not at all.  He shared the information with my father, his friend; and my father told me.  With the death of Morley and those closest to him, important historical information is now at risk.  The responsibility seems to fall on my shoulders—the hunched shoulders of an 85-year-old man who walks slowly with a cane.

I have struggled with the ethical question involved in revealing secret information given in trust, over against the imperative felt by a professional historian.  The fact is that there is no one left who could be hurt.  His daughter protected her family and her very successful career and took the secret to the grave in 1999.  His grandchildren are either retired or soon to be.  And in any case, what I am carrying around is today not exactly a bombshell.  The authorship of “Naked Notes” is important to historians and archivists but not to the police or the postal authorities.

What motivates me finally is gratitude.  The Morley family were generous friends of the Downes family, and I feel obliged to give credit to the real author of “Naked Notes.”  An example of their generosity was their effort to get the Downeses included in the season-ending cruise of a schooner out of Ocean City—a cruise for which we had no reservation and which we could not possibly afford.  That was the cruise during which a nude bride and groom were married by a nude minister.  It was also the moment when an eight-year-old boy got to see the curvature of the earth when invited to look through a telescope at a steamship thirty miles away—a ship of which only the smokestacks could be seen.  To me the man behind the pseudonym is a hero, and I want others to know his real name.

To create a new personal identity is difficult.  The fact that Dwight Morley chose his own middle name—the maiden surname of his maternal grandmother—as the foundation of the pseudonym suggests a rather cavalier attitude at the outset. It was an egregious mistake from the standpoint of security.  (That middle name, plus the signature, can be seen on the World War II draft registration card of Dwight Oakley Morley, courtesy of Ancestry.com.)  As a result of his inexperience, Morley made other mistakes, contaminating his false identity with additional traces of his real identity.  I was able to exploit those mistakes in order to solidify my case.

Morley was safe from detection in the non-digital era in which he lived.  His draft card was not available for viewing on Ancestry.com.  His other security lapses were lost in 4000 pages of ephemeral magazines printed on paper.  The cost of a non-digital search was prohibitive.  I speak from personal knowledge here.  My 1961 doctoral dissertation was based on a sample of 650 non-digitized magazine articles and stories.  My manual search for key phrases consumed many months of full-time labor.  Now I have lived on into a vastly different era, the digital age.  The American Nudist Research Library at Cypress Cove Resort near Kissimmee, Florida, is a world-class repository of nudist magazines and has done scans of 7000 issues and used OCR to convert the scans into searchable text.  That—and the generous help of the staff— is what enabled me to crack the case. All I had to do was to find one crucial word in the life of Dwight Oakley Morley and then search for a match in the digitized magazines.

I started with the World War II draft registration card of Dwight Oakley Morley, the document you see below.  (That was on my disk, courtesy of Ancestry.com, not the Library’s disk.)  My attention was caught by the distinctive character of the Morley home address—“Moss Farm Road”—not the kind of thing that would drown me with a million useless hits.  Indeed, it was a home I had visited as a child.  All I had to do was type that address into the search box on the computer screen and wait a few minutes to find out who was using that address in a hundred issues of The Nudist and Sunshine & Health.  It turns out that the home address of Dwight Oakley Morley was being used by someone called “Dan Oakley.”  To be fair, I should say that there was one hit, one moment of absent-mindedness, one slip-up in the security apparatus Dwight Morley used to protect himself and his family.  In the digital era, one is enough.

Above is the Dwight Morley draft card with the Morley address on Moss Farm Road.  On the next page is “Dan Oakley” using the Morley address.

At the left here is a different view of the same use of the Morley home address by Dwight’s pseudonymous alter ego “Dan Oakley.”  This time the address is shown in its context on page 30 of the March 1941 issue of Sunshine & Health.  The  camping season in Mays Landing is still months away.  Dwight is at home in Connecticut, and he doesn’t want his “Dan Oakley” mail from potential summer students to get stranded in New Jersey. Getting your mail is one of the fundamental problems in running a double identity.

There was one other security breach that helps to confirm the analysis above.  This one involves the business address of Dwight Morley rather than his home address. The documents begin on the next page.

Above is the magazine advertisement for Dwight Morley’s studio in Mays Landing, New Jersey.  It is from the June 1939 issue of The Nudist.  Next below is a news item or announcement on page 30 of the March 1941 issue of Sunshine & Health, the successor title.  Both refer to the Sedgwick Art Institute.  One names Morley as director.  The other suggests a similar status for “Dan Oakley.”

We are very lucky that Morley was initially careless with his security measures, inadvertently opening back-door access for us.  In the years following these slip-ups, Dwight Morley never again allowed “Dan Oakley” to use the Morley home address or the Morley business address.

Running through this documentary analysis is a thread of autobiography or memoir.  In closing, I want to formalize that thread by documenting briefly the place of the Downes family in nudist history.  My family operated a small business called “Recreational Research,” which advertised in The Nudist and later in Sunshine & Health.  Here is the Nov 1937 version of our monthly ad:

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